Creating Memorable Moments

What is the right balance for spending effort to creating more meaningful and defining moments in our work and personal life?

This question arose as I read The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. They define a moment as a “short experience that is both memorable and meaningful”. A core idea from the book is to think about how we can be the authors of these moments. However, it takes extra time and energy to instrument these moments, which can get in the way of our already busy lives.

One example I found interesting was about transforming a classroom experience. Students in a high school English class were reading “The Lord of the Flies” when they received an official-looking legal complaint saying that the author would be on trial for misrepresenting human nature in the book. Each student had a role to play in the trial (witness, attorney, or judge) and two months to prepare before going to an actual courtroom to decide the author’s guilt. The students acted as famous witnesses from literature and history (ranging from Gandhi to Darth Vader) and gave testimonials on the nature of humanity. This trial turned a normal English class into one of the most memorable and interesting school experiences for many students who participated.

This was an exceptional outcome that took a substantial amount of effort to create. It made me reflect on how to balance effort with creating moments. For every potential moment, there seems to be a threshold of how much effort I need to expend to create a moment that is “memorable,” and that level of effort varies based on the context. Additionally, the more novel the activity is to me, the more likely it’ll be memorable. I’ve created a rough graph to explore this idea.

This graph estimates how likely a moment is to be memorable given the combination of the amount of effort we spent to create the situation and how novel it is. From reading the book and my own experiences, there appears to be a threshold where after you spend a certain amount of effort to make a special experience above what you would normally do, it starts to become much more likely the moment will be memorable. I’ve termed this the “memorable threshold”. 

On most of our activities, we spend a small amount of effort and follow our usual script, such as going out to lunch at our local restaurant (below the memorable threshold). This can be a good experience, but is unlikely to be memorable. On the other end of the spectrum are events like the classroom trial or getting married. These events are more novel and take substantially more effort to create and consequently they are much more likely to be memorable, but it would be infeasible to plan such large experiences every day, even if you wanted to. 

Even if we were to repeat a memorable event on a regular basis, the novelty would be reduced and these events would become more normal and less likely to be memorable. However, we could spend extra effort to take the event to an even greater level or change up the format to make it novel again. Letting more time pass between events can also increase the novelty; a meal at your local restaurant could be quite memorable if you go out to eat once a year. 

Another key point from the book is to watch out for the voice of “reasonableness”. This voice reminds you something is impractical or “impossible” since it takes a lot of resources or is against the way things are normally done, and that voice can stop potential moments in their tracks. I’ve definitely experienced the voice of “reasonableness” many times (including being the one to state it) and I think we should be on guard against it when we’re trying to make something really memorable.  

While I’m not sure where the correct balance lies in creating moments, I feel in most cases we are not spending enough effort to make memorable and meaningful moments and we would benefit from creating more of these moments. When I look back on the years, these memorable events stand out from the blur of time flowing by and were enriching and meaningful experiences in my life.

Usability Testing Resources

I am conducting a workshop at the WebCamp Zagreb, giving an introduction to usability testing. In preparing for the workshop I compiled a list of books and articles that I felt could be helpful for anyone interested in learning more about user-centered design and usability testing. Hopefully these resources will help you out as you discover more about usability testing.

(Note: The books are affiliate links!)

Usability Testing

Articles

Books

Online Usability Testing

  • UserTesting.com – A website where you can hire users to do to remote usability testing on your website quickly. They record the user’s screen and the user answers some questions on what is happening. Can be a quick solution if you cannot recruit your own users.
  • loop11.com – Another website that provides remote usability testing.

General Design

Articles

Books

  • Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. Great book that details different usability issues found in common items in everyday life, as well as positive examples of how these items can be improved. Reading this can help you think about any sort of product design.
  • Don’t Make Me Think – A short book by Steve Krug that provides an introduction to usability principles.
  • Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction – This is a great textbook written by Shneiderman & Catherine Plaisant for getting an overview and introduction to the field of designing interfaces and human-computer interaction (HCI). This book is often required reading in many undergraduate and graduate HCI courses.

 

Reflections on Berlin: A Non-Resident Resident Exploring the Tech Scene

Berlin has been my home for almost 6 months of the past year. I was drawn to Berlin because of my fascination with Berlin’s history and culture, its reputation as a startup hub in Europe, and the low cost of living. While I am sure I will return to Berlin, locals have told me that the city is constantly changing and neighborhoods can be rapidly different in just a few short years.

To this end I wanted to write down my thoughts over what I have experienced in the city, having lived with various people in three trending districts in the city: Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, and Neukölln.

General thoughts on the city:

  • Safe yet gritty: The city is quite safe even though a number of districts are neglected (some would say they look like a dump). You can find a lot of trash and dog poop on the streets as well as lots of graffiti (mainly tagging). This is particularly present in the up-and-coming areas.
  • Low cost of living for a capitol in Western Europe (but prices are rising): Food is particularly cheap. You can find a sandwich for 1-2 euros and lunch menus can be as low as 4-5 euros for a solid meal. Rent is quickly rising in the trending neighborhoods due to gentrification, though it is still quite cheap to live further out. Given the increase in prices and influx of immigrants, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next 5-10 years the cost of living in Berlin became comparable to most western European capitols.
  • Friendly, open, cosmopolitan residents: I have found most people to be very friendly and open, as well as coming from a diverse range of locales. It is easy to come in to the city knowing no one and develop a group of friends if you actively seek to meet people.
  • Plentiful and varied meet up events: Yoga? Take your pick of style. Beer tasting with a knowledgeable host? Got it. Language learning events? In droves.
  • German not required (but it definitely helps): Almost everyone who is under 40 speaks at least a basic level of English and many are quite fluent. There are also some areas where you’ll hear more English than German due to the large international presence.
  • Lots of green space: While Berlin is not as green as some other German cities such as Hamburg, you can find sizable and beautiful parks throughout the city, a massive park (Tiergarten), and the unique attraction of the abandoned Tempelhof airport that is available for public use. German laws allow alcohol in public, which makes it possible to have a picnic in and legally drink in a park.
  • Reliable, frequent, and affordable public transit: Driving and parking is a chaotic and best avoided in the trendy districts, but driving is not necessary for getting about the city.
  • German yet not German: Berlin is an interesting mix of stereotypical German culture with a counter-culture movement and foreign influences, similar to how Austin is to Texas. You still have German mentality on sustainability and local goods, as well as their hatred of credit cards (good luck finding a restaurant that accepts them), while there are a number of deviances from the German norm, such as people (sometimes) walking across an empty street without a walk sign.

Regarding the tech community:

  • Large and enthusiastic tech and startup community: There is a constant stream of tech meet ups and hackathons, neat co-working and hacker spaces, as well as workshops to learn various things. The city is full of startups but the community is quite young with no real presence of large tech companies and there is a lack of mentorship and senior personnel to be found here. Due to the city’s reputation, it attracts a number of well-known individuals in the tech community that visit or live in the city and will be present at events and conference.
  • Deflated tech salary: Due to the influx of tech workers from other regions, the average salary for tech workers is lower than other German cities (e.g. Munich, Hamburg) even when the cost of living is taken into account. However, I have met many people who have jobs in the city that are also working remotely, which is a terrific gig.
  • Startups lacking tech innovation: There are not many tech startups seeking to make new tech innovations. They have a number of interesting startups that are innovating through other means, but I have also noted a lot of startups with the goal of copying services provided by US companies to the US / English speaking market into the German / European market (some very successfully).
  • Healthier startup life: There is a healthier attitude towards startup life in Berlin as compared to Silicon Valley. Many startup employees are working hours more akin to a full-time job than a US startup life; they are willing to end their work-day in the evening and go out and enjoy the simpler things in life. On the other hand, I notice some startup founders seem to be less invested in their company and seem to be doing a startup only as a thing to do while they’re uncertain of what to do with their life, not because they believe in their idea.

Overall I find Berlin a wonderful place and am sad to be leaving this month. I would highly recommend it to anyone as a place to live or visit, particularly if you are a tech worker who can work remotely.